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Looking Back: Harlem Hospital Paid Tribute to Neighborhood Heritage in Glass


Most people think the beauty of glass is that it is transparent. But there are many creative and meaningful ways to use glass to make a statement and honor legacies in architecture.  Few places are as rich in tradition and heritage as New York’s famous Harlem neighborhood. One extraordinary example is Harlem Hospital Center which is a 272-bed, public teaching hospital affiliated with Columbia University. It is located in New York City at 506 Lenox Avenue in the Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem and was founded in 1887.



The hospital was established to provide healthcare to the citizens of the neighborhood. Initially, the hospital served as a holding area for patients to be transferred to Ward’s Island, Randall’s Island and Bellevue Hospital, New York City. With the wave of the African Americans who moved to New York after the World War, the hospital soon outgrew its initial building. After acquiring land, a new building opened on April 13, 1907. The hospital developed a teaching program that is affiliated with Columbia University, and has continued to serve the Harlem neighborhood since its inception. Just as technology and healthcare have progressed through the years, so has innovation in construction – especially using glass to make a statement and not just a unique building material.

The hospital’s administration wanted to honor the rich legacy of residents of Harlem by weaving artistic stories in the form of a huge mural. The modernization and creative use of glass made the Harlem Hospital Center the new front door to Harlem. Through a celebration of its historic cultural context, HOK designed the hospital to welcome and serve Harlem’s diverse community of cultures. The iconic mural on the exterior of the Mural Pavilion illuminates Harlem’s history and culture while showcasing the hospital’s prominent role in the community. Soaring 65 feet high and spanning a city block, the colorful, 12,000-square-foot glass facade mural depicts excerpts from the story of the African diaspora, creating a dramatic frontispiece along Lenox Avenue for the circa-1887 Harlem institution. The project team selected W&W Glass to handle the system design and installation.



Using glass in art is nothing particularly new, but when a design incorporates custom printed glass frit patterns with building facades to make a breath-taking impression, it makes a grand statement. The Harlem Hospital Center in New York City is a great example of the kind of large scale, structurally-glazed curtain wall project that uses digitally-printed fritted (silk-screened) glass to create an impressive work of art. The effect is heightened at night when the entire facade is backlit by the interior of the building. W&W Glass’s professional constructed a curtain wall with digitally-printed glass. The final product uses Erie Architectural Products custom-fabricated Kawneer® curtain wall system to support the digitally-printed glass panels.


African-American artist Vertis Hayes created the “Pursuit of Happiness” mural in 1937 as part of the federal government’s Works Progress Administration program. Visible from the street and accessible from the atrium, a permanent art gallery houses the complete “Pursuit of Happiness” mural, with works of other WPA artists in adjacent galleries. The artwork is the focal point for the patient pavilion, providing a visual history for generations to come.

W&W Glass LLC is a family owned business with a 70-year history in the metal and glass industry, one of the largest metal and glass companies in the New York metropolitan area and the largest supplier of structural glass systems in the country. We have over two decades of experience in the design and installation of various building enclosure systems, including stick-built curtain walls, pre-glazed unitized curtain walls, Pilkington Planar structural glass facades, and custom metal and glass enclosure systems. We install all of our work with our own dedicated union labor force. W&W is consistently the largest employer of glaziers in the NY metropolitan area.

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